June 28, 2024

Reconciliation in Action: Supporting Indigenous Communities by Addressing the Legacy of Colonization

“Our strength lies in the fact that we are still here. We have endured.”

Ovide Mercredi

Ovide Mercredi, a Cree lawyer, leader and former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, has been a prominent advocate for Indigenous rights and self-determination throughout his career. His words emphasize the resilience and perseverance of Indigenous peoples in the face of historical and ongoing challenges resulting from our country’s colonial past and ongoing legacy.

Reflecting on this difficult past and legacy is an important part of Indigenous History Month. It’s a time where we remind ourselves of the responsibility we hold for acknowledging the truth, and the active role we need to play in Reconciliation – personally and professionally.

The Ottawa Mission bears this responsibility by taking active steps toward Reconciliation. We acknowledge that our shelter operates on the traditional unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabe people. We acknowledge that the history of colonization has deeply impacted Indigenous communities, particularly through the loss of land and housing. Housing is a fundamental human right, yet the effects of colonization have led to a disproportionately high rate of homelessness among Indigenous peoples. We recognize our role in addressing this injustice by creating a safe and inclusive environment through culturally safe programming and partnerships, and continued advocacy to address the causes of Indigenous homelessness.

Understanding the Impact of Colonization

Colonization in Canada has resulted in profound and lasting effects on Indigenous Peoples, including displacement, discrimination, loss of cultural identity, and systemic barriers to housing and healthcare. This legacy is evident in the stark statistics that illustrate the ongoing struggles faced by Indigenous communities.

According to a study by the Homeless Hub, Indigenous peoples represent 30% of the homeless population in urban centers across Canada, despite making up only 5% of the total population. This overrepresentation is a direct result of historical and ongoing policies of displacement and marginalization.

Moreover, the impact of residential schools, which forcibly removed Indigenous children from their families, continues to affect generations. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) reports that the trauma and cultural dislocation caused by these schools have significantly contributed to the social and economic challenges faced by Indigenous peoples today.

These statistics highlight the urgent need for targeted and culturally appropriate interventions to address the unique challenges faced by Indigenous communities. As an emergency shelter, we play a pivotal role. The Ottawa Mission’s Reconciliation Action Plan outlines our commitment to this important work, emphasizing respect, collaboration, and meaningful action.

Culturally Safe Programs

Culturally safe programs are a vital step in addressing the unique needs of Indigenous peoples experiencing homelessness. These programs recognize the importance of cultural identity and traditions in the healing and recovery process. According to the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, culturally specific programs help create a sense of belonging and trust, which is essential for effective service delivery. Research indicates that Indigenous peoples are more likely to engage with, and benefit from, services that respect and incorporate their cultural practices. The National Collaborating Centre for Indigenous Health (NCCIH) highlights that culturally safe approaches reduce barriers to accessing care and improve overall outcomes for Indigenous clients.

Incorporating cultural practices such as smudging, traditional foods, and ceremonies within homeless shelters not only honour the heritage of Indigenous Peoples but also foster a supportive community where they feel understood and valued. We aim to continue building culturally safe programs and services at the Ottawa Mission with this core belief in mind. Our monthly Country Food Feasts and Smudging Ceremonies provide opportunities for Indigenous community members to connect with their heritage in a supportive environment. Indigenous students from Chef Ric’s Food Services Training Program (FSTP) often lead these community meals, ensuring that the programs are reflective of the true richness of Indigenous culinary traditions and practices.

Collaborative Efforts and Future Goals

Just like collaborating with Indigenous FSTP students, the Ottawa Mission’s path towards reconciliation is informed by working closely with Indigenous partners and community organizations and members to ensure our plan reflects the lived experiences of Indigenous people. Our public support for Reconciliation outlines the steps our shelter is taking to create spaces where Indigenous community members feel welcome and supported. These steps include:

  • Enhancing Cultural Competency: Providing ongoing training for our staff to ensure they understand and respect Indigenous cultures and histories.
  • Expanding Programs: Increasing the number and variety of programs that cater specifically to the needs of Indigenous community members.
  • Strengthening Partnerships: Building stronger relationships with Indigenous organizations and leaders to better serve the community.
  • Improving Accessibility: Ensuring our services are easily accessible to Indigenous individuals, addressing barriers that may prevent them from seeking help.

Moving Forward

As our journey towards Reconciliation continues, we recognize that there is much work to be done. We remain steadfast in our commitment to supporting Indigenous communities and addressing the systemic issues that contribute to homelessness and marginalization.

You can read our full public commitment to Reconciliation here.